By Sabina Mollot
On Tuesday, State Senator Brad Hoylman released a report focusing on how LGBT veterans have been denied a multitude of benefits for decades and announced his plan to introduce legislation that would address this longstanding issue. The reason, he explained in the report, is that over 50 state benefits are contingent upon a veteran’s discharge status. This would make those who were discharged solely for their sexual orientation or gender identity potentially ineligible to receive those benefits, which include scholarships, job opportunities, health screenings, tax breaks and even reimbursement for burial costs.
On his “New York Restoration of Honor Act,” Hoylman said, “It’s appalling that there are generations of LGBT veterans right here in New York who continue to be discriminated against and denied important benefits by the very government they fought to defend. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ thankfully is over (having ended in 2011), but my report shows that the holdover of the widespread injustice against LGBT service members remains.”
Around 114,000 U.S. service members have been discharged for their sexual orientation or gender identity since World War II.
The bill would establish a process within the State Division of Veterans’ Affairs for LGBT veterans to clarify their discharge status. The onus would then be on the state to prove that a veteran who has been discharged from the military because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity is not otherwise eligible to receive state services or benefits. The legislation is similar to a federal one by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Brian Schatz.
“It has not moved in Congress, so we thought we’d address it at state level with state benefits,” said Hoylman.
He said he plans to introduce it in Albany before the end of the legislation session, at a time when all kinds of bills are expected to be bartered through.
“Clearly, there are things moving in Albany for reasons that you never really know,” said Hoylman, “but I think it is certainly worth addressing longstanding discrimination against individuals who now have the opportunity to serve (openly) but who have been denied help until very recently.”